Promises made, promises kept?

The DiMaria administration claims many things as as fact.

What they have provided are either unsupported statements, or at best half-truths which they  apparently believe that the voters of Morton Grove cannot see the difference between overblown empty promises and the reality of this administration’s failure.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalized economy increasing sales tax receipts.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is higher cost of government and a continued stagnant business tax base.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised more and better senior services.
What the DiMaria administration has delivered is reduced, or in some cases, eliminated senior programs.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised a revitalization of the area around the Metra station with shpping and other amenities. They were going to make a Morton Grove version of Edison Park.

What the DiMaria administration has delivered is a Metra station that is not advertised or promoted. There are no new businesses or amenities around the station and the area more closely resembles the Englewood neighborhood on Chicago’s south side rather than Edison Park.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would move Morton Grove forward. Great sums of money, your money, was spent to hire outside consultants to create a village ‘brand’ and create business. An economic development officer was hired to address the “numerous” large parcels of land in the Village’s “Land Bank.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Take a stroll around town and look at the empty retail buildings and storefronts. These vacant properties generate zero sales tax revenue. The corner of Dempster and Waukegan is one of the most heavily traveled in this state and it’s corners sits there undeveloped and under performing. The industrial strip along Austin is a ghost town.

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised that they would maintain village services while keeping your taxes low.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? Fines and fees have increased with no appreciable commensurate increase in services. The DiMaria administration has certainly increased Village employees…we have certainly staffed up and created more office space for them. What has the increase in staff done to make things better?

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised to address the crisis facing the funding of our police and fire departments.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? The Police and Fire Pension funds are owed over $20 Million dollars. Where is this money going to come from? Without a business tax base the homeowners are the sole funding source. Right now the 5000 households owe $4000 each to this fund just to catch up!

-Four years ago, the DiMaria administration said that we were in dire need of a new police station because the current station was outmoded and presented a safety hazard to the residents of the neighborhood. Once more, the village went into the real estate market and purchased a manufacturing property on Lehigh for the purpose of moving the police into a new facility.

What has the DiMaria administration delivered? A vacant building on Lehigh and no solid plan made public as to when, (or if), the new police facility will happen, and, if it does, how it will be paid for?

– Four years ago, the DiMaria administration promised openness and transparency.

What has the DiMaria adminstration delivered? A Chicago style ‘political boss’ version of government has done little to nothing to stimulate business or improve Village finances. A use of village resources, (like the newsletter, village web site and village-wide mailings), as political propaganda to promote Village president DiMaria.

What has the DiMaria administration NOT delivered? There is no major food market within the village limits. There is a shopping center on the 3rd busiest corner

 in Illinois going to ruin, even though the ownership was eager to reach a redevelopment agreement. There is a loss of the sense of community that up until 4 years ago had Morton Grove as one of the top 10 places to live in Illinois.

 

Has the DiMaria administration told the truth? Perhaps only half of it, and, as Benjamin Franklin said in Poor Richard’s Almanack; “Half the truth is often a great lie.”

Next Tuesday, April 4th, is the election that will determine the future of YOUR Morton Grove.
Perhaps you need to ask yourself a question before you vote this time; “Are you and Morton Grove better off now than you were 4 years ago?”

Morton Grove Melodrama part 16- I got friends in low places

                                BREAKING NEWS!

Morton Grove News has discovered that the current village administration has had a proposed ordinance declaring Morton Grove as a “SANCTUARY VILLAGE”, (the working title is a “welcoming ordinance”),  in their possession for at least 7 weeks. The residents who proposed this measure on January 27, were assured that the village would look into this proposal and take action, yet no response has been forthcoming. So, the question to Mr. DiMaria is:

“Are you FOR this proposal, or are you AGAINST it?”

Over the past 10 days or so, the opposing parties in the village April 4th election have been having a “He said, she said” joust over the village pension debt and village pension contributions.

Village president DiMaria and his mates repeatedly report how they have increased contributions to the pension obligations the past four years. The Action Party states “we contribute more towards our pension obligations than the minimum payment required by law.”

The “Independent Candidate” group point out that they must increase contributions, because every year the pension liability will continue to grow due to yearly increases in payroll and fluctuations in investment returns and that the amount they have contributed each year has not kept pace with the increasing liability.

We might want to remember a bit of fairly recent village history. In 2005, the Caucus Party, which at that time controlled village government, made a statement that the village did not have to pay the suggested yearly pension amount and tried to pass a budget drastically reducing pension obligation payments.It was this same Caucus Party that backed DiMaria for Mayor, and is now running the Action Party. It could be questioned if this is the reason for not dealing with the growing pension debt.

But there is another troubling issue that has not been addressed by either the Action Party or the “Independent Candidates”, an issue that goes directly to the heart of fiscal responsibility, white collar patronage and cronyism.

When village president DiMaria and his “rubber stamp” village board decided to replace the village manager, they did it in a way reminicent of the old Daley political machine. Without regard to the Supreme court decision in Elrod v Burns that decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347), without public notice, without a search for the most qualified candidate, without public debate or proper authorization, they chose and handed the six-figure position to the current village administrator. What is interesting, is that the current administrator happens to be a former village of Morton Grove fire chief who receives a pension paid for by the taxpayers amounting to about 80% of his former salary as fire chief.

Nice work, if you can get it. A six-figure village pension supplemented by a six-figure village salary, (which could qualify for yet another village pension in the future since this individual had served as village administrator before heading off to greener pastures in Skokie).

But wait, as they say in the late-night infomercials, there’s more. The Morton Grove fire chief that followed the current village administrator as fire chief before the current village manager was given the job was named as the “acting village manager”. After a bit of musical chairs, the second fire chief “retired”. It was at that point that village president DiMaria and his “rubber stamp” village board created a non-existent position of assistant to the village administrator. Again, without regard to the Supreme court decision in Elrod v Burns that decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347), without public notice, without a search for the most qualified candidate, without public debate or proper authorization, they chose and handed the new five-figure position to the recently retired fire chief. So, now we have the two highest administrative positions in the village held by previous village fire chiefs whose combined pensions alone come to over $200,000 per year… and whose combined salaries and fringe benefits equal or exceed that amount.

Large bills fanned out and held in hand

There is also a bit of strangeness when it comes to the village attorney, (who, coincidentally happens to be the village ethics officer). The position is shown in the village budget as a part time position, but if you look at the village budget documents, you will see that it qualifies for a pension… which normally would not be available to a part-time employee.

It’s good to have friends in high places. It’s a shame that, apparently the tax payers of Morton Grove have no such friend.

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 14 – The Power of Incumbency

One of the advantages of being the incumbent party and controlling all the municipal functions of the village is being able to “game the system” to your advantage.

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For example, a recent Morton Grove Champion article , recounts how a challenge to the current Action Party candidates was refused a hearing by the village clerk, who is also one of the candidates running on the Action Party ticket in the upcoming election.

Albers’ objections were filed Dec. 23, making the papers late, according to Board of Elections attorney Menzel.
“Those candidate petitions are presumed to be valid and the candidates move on — even if there were flaws in the petitions — because the time window for the challenges passed,” he said.

Albers maintained that the Action Party nomination papers were accepted a half hour before the clerk’s office opened and questioned whether statements of economic interest were filed with the clerk during the filing period.
Not filing statements of economic impact during a filing period could be “fatal,” he acknowledged, but there is no way to investigate further because of the lack of timeliness.

“The only way to challenge candidates’ petitions and qualifications to get onto the ballot is through the objection process and it has a hard and fast deadline,” he said. “I’m not going to speculate what happened here, but there isn’t a format to challenge because they were too late with their objections.”

So, in essence, there could have been hanky-panky but there will not be a hearing, there will not be transparency and the voters will have one less chance to fairly judge how this current administration is dealing with following election laws ethically.

When you are in charge and control everything you can pretty much do as you please apparently. For example, a few weeks ago there was a village newsletter that more resembled an Action Party campaign piece mailed to residents. It follows, almost word-for-word, the political web site of the candidates running on the party ticket for the April 4th election.

Just this week residents received a post card announcing a “Town Hall” meeting for Thursday, March 16th. It’s funny that this administration which promised transparency decides to have what could rightfully be characterized as an Action Party campaign rally paid for at taxpayer’s expense within three weeks of the election. Illegal? Maybe or maybe not but unethical and politically sleazy? Absolutely!

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Many might think that political patronage was long dead. After all, the Supreme court in Elrod v Burns decided that political patronage hiring was illegal, ( 427 US 347) and reaffirmed the decision in Branti v Finkle, ( 445 US 507). What the court left standing, however, was what is commonly referred to as “white collar patronage”.
In recent cases the US court of appeals held that the first amendment protection under Elrod does not extend to government contractors. This preserves on of the most highly valued elements of the patronage system the distribution of government contracts and awarding of government money and commission positions as a means of rewarding political supporters and donors.

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For example, the TIF money that was earmarked for the revitalization of Prairie View Shopping Center has, instead, been used to underwrite Heartland ( the development company behind the luxury apartments at 8700 Waukegan Rd, political donors to the Action Party. Money from the Lehigh-Ferris TIF  went to underwrite Moretti’s pizza restaurant, (another political donor to the Action Party).

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Three of the candidates running for the Park District are officers of the Action Party and appointed members of village commissions. It is interesting to see coordination in the placement of their campaign signage,  so apparently there is now a plan in place for the Action Party to have all elected and appointed offices under their control.

Some would say that the folks running the Action Party are gaming the system, but you don’t have to game the system when you can make up the rules as you go along and decide which rules, (like the village ethics ordinance), you choose to ignore.

As the actor Mel Brooks says in his film “History of the World-Part 1”; “It’s good to be the king!

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 13 – We’re off to see the Wizard!

Village president DiMaria, during his last campaign fashioned himself as “the face of the village”.

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Considering that his name and picture are plastered all over the quasi-political campaign literature laughingly referred to as the village newsletter, and his smiling visage appears in almost every local “news” story featured in “the Champion”, you can see that Mr. DiMaria takes his self-styled title very, very seriously.

There has been much talk in the national media lately about the narcissism and ego of a certain politician. Fair enough, but many of the same opinions and comments can be made regarding the Morton Grove Village President.

There’s little question that politicians wield vastly more power and control than the average citizen.

Moreover, privy to non-public, industry-related knowledge affords them all sorts of opportunities (blatantly unethical under Morton Grove ordinances) to substantially augment their income through “insider” trading and investments. For many of them the appetite for material riches can be insatiable.

Large bills fanned out and held in hand
Large bills fanned out and held in hand

Which helps explain why at times the liberty that some of them can’t resist taking with the public trust is so flagrant that (moralistically kicking and screaming) they actually end their careers behind bars. (Does the name “Rod Blagojovich ring a bell?)

One of the primary characteristics of narcissists is their exaggerated sense of entitlement.

It’s hardly surprising then that so many politicians (like our current village president) somehow think they “deserve” to game the system. After all, from their self-interested perspective, isn’t that what the system is for?

In their heavily self-biased opinion, if they want something, by rights it should be theirs. So, nothing if not opportunistic, they take from public and private coffers alike whatever they think they can get away with. (Consider the increase in stipend and “technology allowance” that the current administration granted itself without the benefit of public notice, public input or a public vote).

And given their grandiose sense of self, they’re inclined to believe they can get away with most anything. Sad to say, in today’s politics their judgment isn’t that skewed. Which is to say they’re much more often right than wrong.

Exploiting their privileged position in such a manner hardly leaves them plagued with guilt.

In general, guilt isn’t an emotion they’re prone to. How could they be if they feel entitled to the objects of their desire? In their minds their very ability to attain something must certainly mean it was merited. So it’s only when they’re caught with their hands deep in the till and their various efforts at denial have failed them, that they’re ready to admit responsibility, and posture remorse. But even then, whatever alligator tears they might shed are calculated to lessen the penalties for their misbehavior—or the time that otherwise they might be required to spend in lockup.

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Ironically, despite the steadfast ethical values they profess, these politicians can be viewed as “moral relativists” in that what they adamantly deem immoral for others is yet somehow acceptable for themselves.
In our village, this raises it’s ugly head in playing “bait and switch” with TIF money earmarked for one project but funneled into a sweetheart deal behind the scenes, or changing a zoning/planning ordinance to pressure a landowner to take actions contrary to his/her own best interests, or something as simple as taking credit for increased businesses in town when there are still an overwhelming number of vacant retail properties on Dempster street, (Who are you gonna believe, Village President DiMaria or your own lying eyes?)

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Whether we characterize the personal “allowances” they make as constituting a double standard or outright hypocrisy, these privileged concessions to self clearly broadcast their overblown sense of entitlement. Which is precisely what enables them to regard themselves as sufficiently exceptional to exclude themselves from the rules and standards they impose on others.

What is hard for us to understand is why the village trustees have forfeited any credit, let alone much of a mention, for any of the “so-called” achievements of the DiMaria administration. Little acknowledgment of trustee Grear, who is, after all, the senior and longest serving trustee. Little acknowledgment of trustee Witko, who, while secure in her seat is defending the position of village president DiMaria while he stands mute and doesn’t defend himself.

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Strange… strange indeed.

The saying “Promises are made to be broken” rings particularly true for them. It’s become almost a joke that the devout pledges they made on the campaign trail bear only trifling resemblance to what they’ve done once in office.

The ability to convince voters that they’ll best represent their interests is what defines their success. Actually implementing what they avowed they’d tirelessly work for isn’t really an essential part of their agenda—which is typically well-hidden from constituents. In short, their campaigns measure how well they can dupe the public, not how well they’ll fulfill their responsibilities once declared victorious.

Perhaps the question Morton Grovers need to ask themselves is; “Are the village and myself better off now than we were 4 years ago”?

The Action Party, and village president DiMaria don’t want you asking that question, but, like in the scene from “The Wizard of Oz”, thunder; “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain”. DiMaria behind the curtain

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 12- Two plus two equals “dog”

There has been quite a bit of “buzz” lately about the Morton Grove/Niles/Evanston water “deal”. At the forefront of “news” coverage has been the claim by Morton Grove village president DiMaria that this agreement will “save” the residents of Morton Grove some Ninety Million dollars over the next 40 years. Of course, that doesn’t take into account that Evanston has already telegraphed a 12% or so increase between 2018 and 2010.

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A Morton Grove Champion article states; “Morton Grove officials said at Monday’s meeting that they expect to save $90 million to $100 million over the life of the 40-year contract, which locks in the suburb’s water rates over that time period. The contract includes the option for two, 10-year extensions.”

Later on in the same article it says; “The two villages are expected to pay about $90 million for a new water transmission main in Evanston at McCormick Boulevard and Emerson Street and other infrastructure needed to deliver water from that city, according to officials from all three towns. That construction is expected to be financed with bond sales.”

Something here sounds like common core new math. Taking a conservative view, assuming that the “savings” projected are accurate, that would amount to a saving of $2,250,000 per year on the water rates, (about $265 per year per household).

However, in order to take advantage of these projected savings, the village will have to pay $90,000,000 to build a new water transmission main and other infrastructure needed to get the water from Evanston to Morton Grove… and that expense is expected to be financed by bond sales.

We need to remember that Morton Grove’s bond rating was recently lowered a second time under this administration which means that borrowing money by issuing bonds will cost taxpayers more money.

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In another Morton Grove Champion article on the lowering of the bond rate, it mentioned that the village’s Equalized Assessed Valuation, (EAV) had dropped 22.4% over a five year period. Simply stated, the EAV is a multiplier used to determine what we pay in real estate property tax. A lower EAV means that each individual property owner must shoulder more of the tax burden.

Currently the village’s bond rating is Aa3, and, even if the administration can get a rate of 2.1% that would amount to an interest cost if $1,800,000 on $90,000,000 of municipal bonds, (and that doesn’t count the cost of underwriting the bonds which include such things as “Gross spread”, which is a complicated combination of what is called “take down” [the difference between what the underwriter pays out to the village and what they get for the bonds on the open market];”management fee; underwriter’s expenses and “Other fees”, [which may include such things as Financial/Municipal advisory fees,  Bond counsel fees; Disclosure counsel fees, Rating agency fees, bond insurance/credit enhancement fees, trustee fees, escrow agent fees, feasibility study costs, auditor’s fees and printing costs]. Figuring out what it costs to issue bonds is, at best, complicated.) Spreads are usually quoted in terms of dollars or points per thousand bonds. For example, a gross spread of $5.00/$1,000 bond on a $90 million issuance would be $450,000: [($90 million /$1,000) *$5.00]. If you are feeling “nerdy” you might check out this article that somewhat explains the process.

If the current administration had kept it’s promise of transparency and had held public meetings telling us the upfront costs of the deal, at least taxpayers could have had some input on  spending close to ONE HUNDRED MILLION TAX DOLLARS. Maybe village president DiMaria, trustee Grear and all the other Action Party trustees figured that it would be easier to ask forgiveness rather than permission.

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So, let’s recap the math on this deal;

  1. The “savings” estimated by village president DiMaria on the water deal: $90,000,000 over 40 years, ($2,250,000 per year).
  2. The up-front cost of the “build out” for water main piping and other infrastructure: $90,000,000.
  3. The cost of issuing the municipal bonds, (not counting “miscellaneous” “OTHER FEES”): $450,000 [approximately].
  4. The cost of interest on the bonds, (assuming a 2.1% rate, recently Aa bonds have been returning between 3.3% and 3.7%):  $1,800,000.

Wait a minute! What happened to that $90,000,000 savings that village president DiMaria spoke about?

“Savings” over 40 years:                         $90,000,000
build-out cost:                                         -$90,000,000
“gross spread” to underwriter:             -$450,000
interest, (based on 2.1% yield)              -$1,800,000

Net cost to Morton Grove taxpayers:    -$2,250,000, (or about $265 per household)

Doesn’t seem like much of a deal to us… sounds more like a fast shuffle.

money down the toilet

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Morton Grove Melodrama Part 11 – Somethings Shaking in Morton Grove

Over the past week there have been a couple of things that should make Morton Grover’s shake their heads in wonderment.

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Last week, a mailing was sent out to Morton Grove businesses in a hand-addressed envelope that showed the return address of Village President DiMaria. Inside the envelope was a message that began; “Mayor Daniel P. DiMaria cordially invites you to the 2017 Business and Leaders Forum to discuss the Progress, Opportunities and Challenges for Morton Grove businesses…” Later on it states; “Meet the Candidates for the 2017 election…”. It is only after reading the back of the invitation and the enclosed card that it becomes apparent that this is a fund-raising ploy aimed at squeezing money out of the businessmen and businesswomen of our village under the guise of a Business and Leader’s Forum. Accidental “bait & switch”? Not likely.

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Also last week the “Winter edition” of the Morton Grove village newsletter was delivered to the homes in town. Interestingly, the content of the village newsletter mirrors the content on the first page of the Action Party web site, (including the use of the outline of the tree which is part of the village logo and the use of the village motto which first appeared on the village stickers). Use of village communications for private political activity is prohibited by not only village ordinance, but also by Illinois ethics statutes, ( ELECTION CODETITLE 15. REGULATING POLITICAL FUNDS AND CAMPAIGNSCHAPTER 255. REGULATING POLITICAL ADVERTISING AND CAMPAIGN COMMUNICATIONS ).

What DiMaria and the Action Party seems to have done bears a resemblance to what passed for politics as usual in Chicago in the 1950s. Richard J. Daley, who was mayor at the time, used to offer a succinct piece of ethics advice to newly elected aldermen. “Don’t take a nickel,” Daley told them. “Just show them your business card.”

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Even the greenest of political newcomers understood exactly what Daley meant. He was telling them that people with an interest in city council decisions would be happy to throw an alderman a little cash on the side to help bring about a favorable outcome. They just had to find an acceptable way to do it.

A law office was a good place. Petitioners who needed a favorable council vote could be depended on to pay generously for a little legal work. An insurance agency was even better.

It was all considered quite legal, at least in the ethical climate that existed in Chicago at the time. There was no quid pro quo, or any need to discuss out loud what the petitioners might want the city council to deliver for them. That part was understood. If a landlord or a building contractor or a labor union wanted to flatter a public official by doing business with him, they had every right to do so.

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The Hobbs Act, passed by Congress in 1946, says that perfectly voluntary transactions can qualify as extortion as long as one of the parties is acting “under color of official right.”

So now, apparently, Village President DiMaria and the Action Party are not satisfied with shaking down village businesses “under color of official right”, but they are blatantly making use of 0000000mad-as-hellmaterials that have been paid for by the taxpayers of Morton Grove no matter if they support the Action Party or not.

Bathhouse John Coghlin and Hinky-Dink Kenna, (two old-time Chicago machine politicians) would be proud… maybe the residents of our village, not so much.

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Morton Grove Melodrama part 9 – The Face of Our Village

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Dan DiMaria’s cry to the Action Party four years ago as to why he had to be elected Mayor was; “The Village Mayor is the Face of the Village.”

After being elected he certainly implemented his concept by plastering his name on everything from village signs , village newsletters and village mailings to residents to brand himself as the Rock & Roll Mayor.

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All at Taxpayer expense, of course. The last time we had seen the blatant politicization of governmental signage and abuse of public communications was under the Cook County machine politics of John Stroger.

If appears that DiMaria wants everyone to see his name everywhere as many times as possible …except on a check to pay for his political aspirations. He has left that up to developers, contractors doing business with the Village of Morton Grove (pay to play), and members of the Action Party to pay for his reelection bid.

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In the long list of donors one name is consistently absent Dan DiMaria.

Ignoring the Village Law that Dan DiMaria & Bill Grear both voted for, they have lined their political pockets from the old Blagojevich “pay to play” handbook by raising funds from Village of Morton Grove Vendors, Contractors, Developers, and those seeking favors & Ordinance Variances

Speaking of ordinances, this type of behavior is specifically prohibited by Village ordinance 01-08-12 Section D Prohibition of Political Contributions;

D.  Prohibition Of Political Contributions:

1.   Any person or business entity whose contract(s), and pending bids for contract(s) with the village of Morton Grove in aggregate annually total more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00) shall be prohibited from making any contributions to: a) a political organization established to promote a candidacy of an elected village official, or a declared candidate for an elected village office, b) an elected official, or c) a declared candidate for an elected village office in excess of one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00) per year per official, declared candidate, or political organization. This prohibition shall be effective for the duration of the term of office of the elected official, or for two (2) years after the date of the election for a declared candidate for an elected village office, whichever is longer.

2.   A political organization established to promote a candidacy of an elected official or a declared candidate, an elected official, or a declared candidate shall not knowingly accept a campaign contribution in excess of one hundred fifty dollars ($150.00) per year from any person, business entity whose contracts and pending bids for contracts with the village of Morton Grove in aggregate annually total more than twenty thousand dollars ($20,000.00). This prohibition shall be effective for the duration of the term of office of the elected official, or for two (2) years after the date of the election for a declared candidate for an elected village office, whichever is longer.

From January 1st 2014 through January 1st 2017 according to Illinois State Board of Election D-2 reports that every Political Party must file, (this can be verified by visiting the web site of the Illinois Board of elections), Dan DiMaria has only donated $315.00 in three years ,the least amount of any elected official in the Action Party. That’s less than $100.00 per year.

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You might rightly believe that he should be able to afford to give more.

He gave himself a 25% increase in his stipend & non itemized expense compensation that he receives for being Mayor & liquor Commissioner. That came out to a $200.00 a month raise!

Interestingly, that started one month after he took office. There was no public notice, no amendment to the 2013 Budget and no vote by the Village Board authorizing the increase. He just casually dipped his paw into the public treasury.

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The Action Party is starting out the Spring Election with the largest bank roll in its history. All due to Dan DiMaria’s & Bill Grear’s disregard for Village of Morton Grove Ordinance 1-8-12, forbidding them from asking for and accepting donations from anyone doing business with the Village.

I guess they forgot the oath they swore when they took office, “…to Honor and obey The Constitution of the United States, The Constitution of the State of Illinois, & all of the Laws and Ordinances of the Village of Morton Grove. “

Is it possible that they, and the other elected members of the Action Party believe that the citizens of our town agree with and endorse the “politics as usual” graft that this represents?

There’s one question as a citizen of Morton Grove that you have to ask yourself; “well, do you agree?”

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